A government scheme offering primary schools help to set up breakfast clubs will be extended for a year, but the Department for Education still won’t say how many new clubs were established in the first wave of the project.
The DfE has confirmed today it will spend an additional £11.8 million on a third year of its national school breakfast programme, which aims to improve access to breakfast provision in schools in disadvantaged areas.
Innovation and learning is good but piecemeal funding given to short term projects is not the answer
Ministers claim 1,800 school breakfast clubs have been “created or improved” since the programme first launched in April 2018 with £26 million in initial funding.
However, the DfE said it doesn’t know exactly how many of the clubs created are new.
According to the department, the extra funding will allow up to 650 more schools to benefit from the scheme by 2021.
Lord Agnew, the academies minister, said the extension would “help boost attendance, behaviour and attainment” and help thousands more pupils to “achieve their best in school”.
But the announcement has prompted questions about the progress of the existing clubs, as well as doubts about the impact of such a short-term project.
Lindsay Graham, a policy adviser on child nutrition and poverty, told Schools Week the government must “invest properly in monitoring effectiveness of child nutrition programmes to make sure that what we are doing works”.
She said governments were still “very much in the dark about the impact of current policies”.
Alex Cunningham, the chief executive of Magic Breakfast, one of the charities delivering the breakfasts programme on behalf of the DfE, said his organisation does monitor the impact of its work.
“We do collect data and monitoring from the schools,” he told Schools Week.
“For example, one in four schools see a reduction of behaviour incidents within a term, and the same see a reduction in late marks as well. So we see it actively improving punctuality and behaviour. But also the schools themselves are reporting improvements in concentration in class.”
Under Magic Breakfast’s model, which is being replicated for the government programme, schools are given resources, advice and all the food they need to launch a new breakfast club or improve one already in operation for a period of up to two years.
But Cunningham insisted that improving existing provision was not just about replacing existing good practice, but about helping schools better identify hunger in the classroom and reach those most in need.
“Many schools will have a form of breakfast offering, but what that was would range from being not very nutritious, like a slice of toast, or being fee-paying.
“The one thing it’s not about is if there was provision in place and it was doing well enough, it wasn’t about replacing that with this.”
The government also faces questions about how breakfast clubs will be supported in the long-term. Currently, schools involved in the pilot face having to pay for the food themselves once the programme comes to an end.
“Innovation and learning is good but piecemeal funding given to short term projects is not the answer,” warned Graham.
“Proper policy, decent longer term protected funding and legislation that includes evaluation is required to stop us failing yet another generation of children.”
The DfE has also confirmed its pilot of holiday activities and free meals in disadvantaged areas will run again this summer, at a cost of £9 million.